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A good call for ideas;Books

I remember with horror the worthy tomes on the theory of education - full of impenetrable jargon - from my student days. So it was a relief to read this accessible book on constructivist learning and teaching.

According to this theory, learners construct their own ideas, rather than simply receive them from the teacher. It involves the teacher finding out children's starting points and working with them to expand and refine their ideas.

Nick Selley offers realistic suggestions, such as descriptions of the different ways to find out children's ideas, and the advantages and disadvantages of each method. I particularly liked the strategies for encouraging pupils to think about what they say rather than play the game of giving the right answer. (For example, when a child responds with a right answer, instead of saying "Good", which closes down further thought, the author suggests that you say in a neutral voice, "O.K. Any other ideas?" or, "Does anyone agree with ... ?" There is also the welcome recognition that no one is expected to employ the constructivist method exclusively and that some skills may be best taught by demonstration. At times the book assumes a crusading tone, supporting those who, Selley believes, may have to fight their corner when defending constructivist teaching from the advocates of teaching by telling and testing.

Anne Goldsworthy is chair of the primary committee, Association for Science Education

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